A Chittenden County woman will receive $550,000 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit against former Vermont State trooper Timothy Carlson. The woman says the trooper unlawfully arrested and detained her in a 2010 traffic stop.
Fata Sakoc filed the lawsuit against the now-former state trooper in 2011. Parties reached a settlement and agreed to dismiss the case on Monday several weeks before a jury trial was scheduled to begin.
“There was just never any basis for any criminal charge, and there was never any basis to even arrest her,” said one of her lawyers, Brooks McArthur, on Monday. McArthur and David Williams represented Sakoc in the case.
McArthur said he believes this settlement is the largest in a federal civil rights “false arrest case” in Vermont history.
Sakoc, who is originally from Bosnia, was never criminally charged after the traffic stop, but the stop “had a significant impact on her employment and mental state,” McArthur said. Specifically, McArthur said Sakoc was no longer able to work as a licensed nursing assistant because the arrest triggered post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from her experiences in Bosnia.
“It’s taken a long time for her to get back to a place where she can trust law enforcement,” McArthur said. He added that she has not worked as a nursing assistant since the incident.
Assistant Attorney General David McLean said the state and its insurance company will pay the $550,000. McLean said that Carlson is not admitting any wrongdoing by settling. McLean was one of two attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office representing Carlson.
“We believe that Trooper Carlson behaved appropriately throughout the stop, he was very respectful to Ms. Sakoc,” McLean said. “He was attempting to fulfill his duty to protect public safety.”
McLean said the settlement amount was determined, in large part, by the state’s insurance carrier “who wanted to resolve the risk of moving forward with litigation.”
“It’s a case that involved a unique set of facts and a unique victim,” McLean said. “Were it not for the specifics of this case, I don’t think that we would have settled the case for this amount.”
Court papers show that Carlson’s last day at the Vermont State Police was April 28, 2013. Vermont State Police records show he resigned. He joined the U.S. Army when he left the police agency, according to court records.
According to a judge’s order in the case, Carlson stopped Sakoc’s vehicle while she was driving on Vermont 15 in Essex on her way home from a shift at The Converse Home, a residential care facility in Burlington. She had a headlight out on her car.
The opinion states that Carlson began questioning Sakoc and he believed her responses to be delayed. He asked Sakoc to get out of the car, and he asked her to go through field sobriety tests. The order states that Carlson then asked Sakoc to undergo a breath test used to detect alcohol.
Sakoc, a Muslim woman, told Carlson that she never drinks alcohol and that she needed to go because she had a baby at home, the opinion states. Sakoc eventually consented to take the test, which resulted in a 0.00 percent blood alcohol content. Carlson then requested a drug recognition expert come to the scene, noting that Sakoc “bombed that field sobriety.”
An unidentified officer on the scene asked if there was any “bad operation.” Carlson responded, “No, a headlight out.”
South Burlington police Officer Matt Plunkett, a drug recognition expert, then responded to the scene. Carlson told Plunkett that Sakoc engaged in erratic operation and cut in front of another car, nearly causing a crash, the judge’s opinion said.
Carlson asked Sakoc if she was on any medications, and Sakoc said she had not used any medications that evening, the opinion states. Sakoc was then placed under arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.
Carlson brought Sakoc to the University of Vermont Medical Center to obtain a sample of her blood. She was released around 3:30 a.m., the opinion states. The blood analysis came back clear of any drugs.
In May 2015, Judge Christina Reiss ruled in favor of Carlson and dismissed the case. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and sent the case back to the federal district court. The Second Circuit’s decision states that Sakoc presented evidence that this was Carlson’s first DUI arrest and “he was motivated to arrest her so as to satisfy the completion of his field training.”
McArthur said Sakoc is pleased with the settlement as it will allow her the freedom to continue to work on overcoming her post-traumatic stress disorder triggered by the stop and to spend time with her family.
“It was a really complex case with a lot of significant legal issues, and both sides worked hard throughout the process,” McArthur said. “We reached a settlement that we’re satisfied with.”